No poetry, short stories, fantasy or science fiction…

For those who have ever set out on the quest to acquire an agent or to try and get work published, that set of words, or some similar arrangement of them, will be familiar. And if, like me, you consider yourself to be a writer of fantasy, your heart will probably sink a little further, and your quest appear to become a little bit more daunting.

The walls of the digital castles of many of the most powerful empires of ink and pixels have signs with just those words set up before them: No poetry, short stories, fantasy or science fiction…

Poetry, of course, is that most uneasy of forms, at least in my own part of the world. In terms of a cultural response, poetry elicits a kind of moral oxymoron: it is both the highest and purest form of literature, and the most base and despised. In its beauty and selflessness, its search for formal perfection, its intense investigation into the workings of language, poetry contrives to transcend the dictates of the market, to refuse, in its very nature, the status of commodity. And, in a way, it succeeds, because nobody wants to buy poems. Poetry is invaluable, and worthless.

In the land of this particular allegory, only the youngest and most innocent of poets (or the boldest and most impudent) would ever venture away from the modest surroundings of their hermit’s caves or idyllic valleys in the more remote provinces of Literature. No poet would embark on a quest to enter the digital castles of the barons who appear to rule much of the country. The drawbridge is always up when a stray poet arrives. The moat is deep and cold. The walls forbid any thought of an assault. Guards look down from their towers and laugh half-heartedly. Deflated, the poet turns away, and begins the long slow ride back to their obscure home.

What happens to short-story writers when they ride into view of the digital castles, I can’t say: I’ll leave them to tell you.

No poetry, short stories, fantasy or science fiction…

My understanding of the general situation, however, is this: for knights of the first two orders, the refusal of the barons even to engage in a friendly joust results from one consideration – money. For the knights representing the second set of orders, though, there is a different reason for the barons’ refusal to engage – taste.

For the barons and their minions are often tasteful fellows. They admire serious writing. Literary writing…

I’m not going to stay on my hobbyhorse about this. Indeed, I’m going to dismount, right now. You see? I take off my silver helm, and shake loose my abundant corkscrew curls of golden hair. I put down my lance, remove my sword, and lie down on my back in this pleasant meadow, cup my hands under my head, and gaze up into the inexhaustibly unwritten blue of the summer sky…

It seems strange to me that there should be such an apparent prejudice against fantasy fiction. I’m sure many people have pointed out that some of the greatest writers have written fantasies of one sort or another. Among writers in English: Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Swift, Keats, Shelley, Lewis Carroll, Dickens, the Brontës… all of these writers are writers of fantasy. Samuel Beckett, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley… And among writers from other languages, Kafka, Verne, Rimbaud, Borges, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Mandelstam, Akutagawa, Sōseki… – really, I could go on and on…

… and I will go on, dear Reader, in a subsequent post…

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